Supreme Court Bats For Press Freedom

The petition has sought detailed guidelines for law agencies seizing journalists’ devices

New Delhi:

Mediapersons have their sources for gathering news and the centre should prepare separate guidelines for the seizure of journalists’ digital equipment for any investigation, the Supreme Court said today.

The strong remarks by the bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia came during a hearing on a petition by Foundation for Media Professionals, which has sought detailed guidelines for law enforcement agencies seizing journalists’ devices.

“This is a serious matter. There should be better guidlines for media professionals. Media professionals have their own sources. We have held right to privacy a fundamental right. There should be a balance,” the court said. The matter will be heard next on December 6.

The court has given time to centre to prepare such guidelines. “The Centre should prepare the guidelines. If you want, we will do it. But I think you should do it. This cannot be a State that’s run through its agencies,” Justice Kaul said.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Centre, said the matter before the court relates to complex legal issues. “The media has rights, but it is not above the law,” he said.

The counsel for the petitioner said this matter is about “State power vs self incrimination, privacy”. “Nowdays they compel to share passwords or biometrics.There are no guidelines with respect to when they will seize, what they will seize, personal data, financial data all digital footprint is on that device,” the counsel said.

The court stressed that the Centre must analyse what kind of guidelines are needed in this case. “We would like ASG to work on this and come back on this issue,” the court said.

Earlier, as many as 16 press freedom organisations had written to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention to end the alleged “repressive” use of investigating agencies against the media. They had sought guidelines on police seizing electronic devices of journalists.

This had come after Delhi Police raided the homes of journalists, editors and writers associated with the news portal ‘Newsclick’. NewsClick founder founder Prabir Purkayastha and its Human Resources head Amit Chakravarty have been arrested under anti-terror law UAPA. The web portal, it is alleged, received money to spread pro-China propaganda.

Following the raids on premises linked to NewsClick and its contributors, press freedom organisations had flagged how phones and computers were seized without ensuring data integrity.

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